The Road to Samarcand by Patrick O'Brian. 1954 book by the author of the Aubrey/Maturin series. A teenage boy, crewing on his uncle's schooner on the South China Sea before WW2, goes on a long overland trip with his uncle, a sailor, an absent-minded professor, a couple of Mongol warrors, and a hideously stereotyped Chinese cook who talks in pidgin English.
Already seems very reminiscent of the Aubrey/Maturin books: the professor is less angsty than Maturin, but similarly intelligent and unworldly but strangely competent at deception. The setting is wonderfully described and there's a good sense of adventure. However, the casual Boys Own Paper style imperialism and prejudice is very evident here, as the noble Anglo-Saxons routinely outwit the dim or degenerate orientals.
Overall, decent entertainment, but not quite up to the standards of his later, better books.
What I'm Reading
The Year of Dreaming Dangerously by Slavoj Zizek. Short book by the popular Marxist/Lacanian philosopher about the year 2011, of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements. Reads a bit like repurposed essays, some things like the chapter on "The Wire" are interesting, but not particularly relevant.
Zizek quotes G.K. Chesterton quite a lot here. I hadn't thought about it before, but Zizek does seem to be the Left's equivalent of Chesterton, and seems to be aware of it. He's a powerful and compelling writer. He's good at probing and exposing the hypocrisies of other ideologies. He's very keen on expounding paradoxes.
And a lot of the time, the paradoxes are a way of covering up weaknesses in his argument. Chesterton/Zizek looks at two sides of an issue, pulls apart the flaws on both sides, then declares that the solution lies mystically in the heart of the paradox, when we abandon both sides in favour of the Holy Spirit/True Communism. Except of course, if those things don't exist, actually we might be better with one of the flawed sides, or try to arrange some compromise between them.
Even so, they're both well worth reading: it's not like anyone else has flawless answers to the big problems either.
Zizek does have some interesting ideas here: he cites others, but they're new to me. He thinks that part of classical Marxism is out of date, in that the classical bourgeousie has been largely replaced by an elite managerial class, who extract a surplus wage rather than than surplus value.
He also points out that much of the apparent resistance to the financial classes comes not from the proletariat, but the petit-bourgeousie who fear being reduced to the proletariat. He's realistically pessimistic that that London riots for instance represent any kind of revolutionary vanguard: they're more about an inchoate rage at the system.
Overall, quite interesting. Worth a read if you're not too allergic to a bit of pretension.
Saw Our Ajax at the Southwark Playhouse. Updated version of the Sophocles play Ajax, based on interviews with British soldiers in Afghanistan. So camps become FOBs, Ajax passed on his SA-80 A2 to his son rather than his shield. Ajax's courtesan Tecmessa becomes a medic, Menelaus becomes an American general, etc.
Actually works pretty well. It's helped by a commanding central performance from Joe Dixon as Ajax, a great warrior adored by his men, but poisoned with fury over being passed over in favour of Odysseus.
Adam Riched is a bit weaker as Odysseys, seeming more bemused than wily here. Gemma Chan does well as a the goddess Athena, violent and aloof.
One oddity was that the performance was half an hour late happening, which is pretty rare: they said it was a technical fault and a wardrobe malfunction. Athena's dress did seem a little ragged: a brown evening dress with a net covering and epaulettes, but it didn't seem to faze her. I don't think we're that bothered about costumes, would have preferred it if they'd just shoved her into fatigues and got on with it.
Overall, powerful production, worth seeing.
What I'm Watching
The Deep Blue Sea. Adaptation of the Terence Rattigan play, about a woman in post-war London who leaves her judge husband and moves in with a dashing but irresponsible ex-pilot. Not to be confused with Deep Blue Sea, which has less adultery and more superintelligent genetically engineered sharks.
Not a bad drama. Interesting to see omnipresent stage actor Simon Russell Beale on screen: he does a good, subtle performance but isn't as charismatic as in his stage roles as Stalin, King Arthur or Galileo. Highlights the post-war references, with the pilot already hopelessly lost in his heroic past.
Has to be said that it's a little dull: despite the short running time, the slow atmospheric pace is a bit hard to take. Does make you appreciate the existence of divorce though, given that her life is wrecked by basically a rebound from a dull, dry type to an irresponsible dilettante.
Overall, watchable but also missable, unless you're particularly into domestic tragedies.
No baby yet. Likely early next week.
Socioeconomics. "The history of modern democracy is a tale of steady success accompanied by the constant drumbeat of anticipated failure". Demographic timebomb not so bad if we work longer. Raise minimum wage if you want to cut immigration. Media portrayals of welfare recipients in UK, Sweden, Denmark. Women Gain in Some STEM Fields, but Not Computer Science.
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